After a gap of many months, I’ve been able to spend some time on my new book these past few weeks and at last feel as if I’ve returned to it in earnest. I thought about keeping a diary of its progress but instead I’m going to record key breakthroughs. Maybe they’ll chime with your own experiences? Do you keep a #writingdiary?
I need to be in longhand right now. In my editing life, I divide my time between on screen edits and the bliss of clean page proofs. As Egyptian cotton bedsheets for some, so page proofs for me. I love it when they arrive in the post to be corrected. But they’re quite formal, almost final, and I don’t want to pretend I’m anywhere approaching that, or will be, for some time. So it’s pencil on lined A4 filed in a ring-binder for me.
My original title just won’t do at all. I really liked it – If Only You’d Asked – but decided it was too passive, too polite for the sort of book I want – need – to write. So I have another title which is much, much more persuasive. I just have to ensure I write a book that fits it.
I wondered about borrowing a plot to make sure I had one. Plenty of people do it. Think of the Hogarth Shakespeare retellings by Anne Tyler, Tracy Chevalier, Jeanette Winterson, et al. And the Jane Austen retellings by Alexander McCall Smith and Val McDermid. Didn’t Helen Fielding plunder Pride and Prejudice for Bridget Jones’s Diary? I thought about Agatha Christie, who was on my mind (in my quest to be #storyish). I decided that my story was about someone shedding different parts of herself. What if she lost them, one by one, the way characters are bumped off one by one in And Then There Were None. So I reread Christie’s book. I decided not to pursue the idea in the end but it was a great excuse to read that classic novel.
The idea of shedding selves is still there. I have only four at the moment – sister, widow, partner and literary estate manager. That’s the big thing I wanted to explore in the book because I have experience of being a literary executor and also working for a publisher who managed an estate. The whole business of representing someone after their death intrigues me. But I don’t want to write a novel about a writer. There are so many, some of which I’ve enjoyed, namely Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I’ve learned a lot from her, but I don’t want to follow her path theme wise. Big note to self: KEEP THE WRITER OUT OF THE BOOK.
In And Then There Were None, there are ten suspects. I thought my main character could shed five selves, maybe, and a counterpart character another five. I thought it would be a man, a potential partner. But when I came to plan him it felt too familiar. Like Minna and Jeff in Ready to Love. Plus I don’t want all the extra characters associated with that kind of structure. I need to focus on my protagonist. It’s her story. She needs to fill the book. Second big note to self: IF IT ISN’T HER STORY, IT DOESN’T GO IN.
To be continued …